News in the Time of COVID-19

Dear Friends and Supporters!

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging and uncertain time for humans around the globe. We are seeing the ripples of tremendous and complex impacts and changes in our homes, our communities, and around the world. The same is true in the conservation world.

Steppe eagle "Kenzhik". Photo by Nirav Bhat

While we multi-task in our jobs, homes, and families, The Altai Project’s partner organizations, activists, researchers, and even wildlife are also making adjustments. Research partners who followed their migrating eagles to India this past winter are staying in India for the duration even after the eagles have flown home to Russia. Snow leopard researchers and park rangers in Altai have not yet had limits placed on their field movements, but social distancing keeps them working out of the lab – perhaps valuable time for writing, but they can’t analyze hair or scat samples or easily meet with collaborators. The Russian government has declared a nationwide month of “vacation”, grinding government-regulated enforcement and oversight to a halt, presenting a huge challenge for our partners working in forestry and logging monitoring. Animals that have not only adapted to human activity, but have come to rely on it – scavenging at waste dumps, hunting for rodents in crop fields – must now adapt again, at least temporarily. Native villages are self-isolating where possible, conducting protective ceremonies, gathering traditional medicines and food; their elders recall the devastation of past pandemics.

Given the uncertain timeline, our partners are contemplating loss of an entire field season and research and monitoring data. Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia have largely closed their international borders, which, combined with regional “shelter in place” requirements, impedes travel. Some work, obviously, cannot be delayed. Fledglings will fledge with or without a researcher to tag it; summer weather will come and go with or without community trainings, festivals, and Altaian traditional knowledge summer camps for kids. The Altai Project had planned to hold two international seminars on wind energy and powerline safety for raptors in Kazakhstan and India, but was forced to place both on hold because of the virus. 

Here at The Altai Project we offer our partners what we can – flexibility in reporting, adjustments to work plans, changes in anticipated results, and creative re-budgeting – as well as helping where we can with valid information, moral support, and brainstorming. We are grateful to our institutional funders for their flexibility – we have had great support and conversations with them. 

Despite disrupted schedules and work, we still have stories to share! In the film below you can see familiar faces continuing their work to protect and restore Saker falcons in Altai. Donate now if you can!

Jennifer Castner
Director

****Altai Saker falcon conservation at the 34-minute mark!****

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